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Many women marched, but one led the way ...
It is 125 years since New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the vote. This accessible story for children is written as historical fiction, relating Kate Sheppard's life journey and her struggle to advance the cause of women's suffrage. Included in the book is a world timeline of women's suffrage and related fascinating facts about women's rights around the world from the past to the present day.
Text is by Maria Gill; the illustrations are by Marco Ivancic.
This is a beautifully produced book - glossy pages, attractive format, good quality hard cover - which would be in place on any young person's bookshelf. Mr Eight is into history and was delighted to be asked to review it with me. He did not know much about suffrage but after reading the book through he had a good grasp of the essentials, and was quite proud that New Zealand had led the way in this! His mother became intrigued too and said she might borrow it for a class one day if she had a group of older children.
The story is presented as a dramatized account of Kate's life, homing in on the key events - her childhood in England, her trip to New Zealand, her marriage, and her fight for the cause that became her life's goal. The text is easy to follow, drawing the young reader in and making him feel the passion that drove her to challenge the establishment. Marco Ivancic's illustrations complement the text perfectly, evoking the atmosphere of a time period more than 100 years ago and vividly bringing to life the clothing, the buildings, and a way of life so different from ours today.
Mr Eight was impressed by the notes which accompany the story. The glossary helped him to fill in a few gaps in his knowledge as he discovered what a penny-farthing was, and wondered how anyone could ever have tolerated wearing a corset. He now knows what suffrage is and can even spell it! There is a simple timeline of suffrage in New Zealand - as with Kate Sheppard's story, it does not go into too much detail but provides enough outline to help a young person to understand the main points. Key women in politics are referenced including Helen Clark and Jacinda Ardern, both names that Mr Eight recognised.
Some of the statistics horrified him as he realised how difficult life is for girls in some other countries, and how lucky he and his sister are to live in New Zealand. It is a bonus that books like this get young people thinking about their society and human rights, and how important it is to educate young people in their responsibilities to one another on a global level. The map provided a further visual outline of just how far New Zealand has come when compared to other countries. Saudi Arabia and the lands immediately surrounding it stood out particularly as countries that had been slow to grant women the vote.
It is rewarding to see just how much a book like this can raise awareness for a youngster and give him the means of doing something about a human rights issue. It will be interesting to see if his interest in history continues to develop - he has been learning about black civil rights for some time, particularly in the context of slavery and the American Civil War, but this book deals with issues a lot closer to home. It is important that a book like this is targeted towards a young audience; a potentially fascinating topic can quickly deteriorate into a boring textbook designed to stifle the child's interest before he starts. On this account, "Kate Sheppard" certainly resonated with him. I can see he will read it many times, and each time will learn something new.
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